Dear Dietitian – Why do we fall prey to fad diets?

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Published Thursday, April 22, 2021
PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
by Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Readers,

When it comes to weight loss, we'd all like an instant solution. Many of us have tried a fad diet, myself included. Many years ago, I was on a diet where you followed a strict meal plan for three days, then ate whatever you wanted within reason (whatever that means) for the following three days. The problem was I couldn't make it through the first three days!

Wikipedia defines a fad diet as "one that is popular for a time, similar to fads in fashion. These diets usually promise rapid weight loss or other health advantages, such as longer life. They are often promoted as requiring little effort and producing a quick fix (1)."

Why do we fall prey to these diets? There are many reasons, the first and most obvious is we want to lose weight fast! Many fad diets produce a rapid, initial weight loss of up to five pounds in one week. This is achieved by depleting the body's glycogen stores, an intermediate form of carbohydrate energy. When glycogen stores are depleted, water is lost with them. Hence, the rapid weight loss.

Another reason we choose a fad diet is it sounds reasonable. Sometimes, they are created by physicians, so they must be healthy, right? Often, these diets proclaim to have discovered a secret to losing weight or, even better, a way to trick your body into shedding those unwanted pounds. There are no tricks or secrets to weight loss. You simply create a caloric deficit over time. Simple, but not easy. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the following guidelines will help you spot a fad diet. (2) These diets tend to have:

  • Recommendations that promise a quick fix
  • Claims that sound too good to be true
  • Recommendations based on a single study
  • Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations
  • Lists of "good" and "bad" foods
  • Elimination of one or more of the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy) 

Will there ever be an end to fad diets? Not in my lifetime, but as public nutrition education expands, one day, the fad diet will quietly disappear. Just as it is now accepted that smoking increases your risk of cancer, the consumer will realize that a fad diet is not suitable for good health. A healthy diet consists of moderate portions of lean proteins, whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and mono- or polyunsaturated fats. Keep it simple.



Until next time, be healthy.

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans. may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase products or services through links in an article. Prices, when displayed, are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time. Commissions do not influence editorial independence.

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